Depression in Children and Adolescents

Although depression is one of the most common mental health issues we face, most people assume that the afflicted ones are usually adults. But the fact is that children and adolescents can suffer from depression as well.


Why do children and adolescents feel depressed?


Just like adults, children and adolescents face various stressors in their daily life. Pressure has many sources, such as changes brought upon by puberty, academic pursuits, making friends etc. Children with depressed parents are more likely to develop depression themselves. The depressed parent may have difficulties providing the love and attention the child needs, resulting in conflicts that contribute to low mood. There is also a genetic component of depression that gives families a predisposition towards it.


How do I know if a child or adolescent is at risk of, or is already suffering from depression?


There are 4 major characteristics of childhood depression:

  • Marked changes in sleeping habits
  • Inability to experience pleasure and fun
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from social relationships

Other signs you should look out for include out-of-proportion irritability, fatigue, extreme changes in appetite, difficulty maintaining concentration, poor academic performance, and suicide ideations. Although the symptoms exhibited vary from child to child, they will have a significant impact on the child’s day-to-day functioning.


Spotting the warning signs of depression isn’t easy, especially in children, as their reaction to mood changes may differ. Some children respond by taking out their irritability on other people, while other children withdraw into themselves and appear tearful and clearly sad.


What should I do if I suspect or realise that my child has depression?


If the child shows signs of depression that last for more than 3 weeks, you should contact your family doctor for an appointment. You should also take comments about suicide or death seriously, and never dismiss their words as silly or attention-seeking.


Your child’s depression could be due to tensions between you and your spouse, or minor conflicts within your family. Communication and support from the family are integral to a child’s wellbeing.


An episode of depression can also be triggered by school issues. Exam fears are common amongst school-children, especially in today’s competitive society. If you feel that your child’s worries stem from academic-related issues, you could set up a meeting with his or her teachers, or approach the school counsellor.


Treatments


Engaging in an open discussion with family members will be very helpful for the depressed child, and professional advice can benefit even more. Bringing your child to a doctor for assessment, and follow-up with a visit to a mental health professional will contribute towards identification of the condition and issues involved. Although children might not understand how a doctor or talking to one can improve the situation, it is necessary that they learn about the reasons for their depression, how to find a suitable resolution to these problems, and the ways they can develop a more positive perspective of their world to cope with any challenges they might face.


The mainstay of treatment for depression in a child is psychological therapy or “talk therapy”. If the condition is severe, then there is a role for the use of antidepressants in the child. Decisions about the use of medications should only be made by a psychiatrist after discussion with the caregivers.


Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Department of Psychological Medicine runs a Child and Adolescent Psychological Wellness Service. We provide a comprehensive assessment and management for Depression in children and adolescents. We have a dedicated multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists and psychologists that can provide assessment and treatment for your loved ones’ psychological and emotional distress.


It is never too late to seek help. If you would like to obtain an assessment, please obtain a referral from your doctor or call 65558828 for an appointment.